Each day, we see new batches of homemade bitters popping up with the most exotic flavours in the most unimaginable combinations. Bitters help to draw out the finish of the cocktail and accent it with an astringent but cleansing bitterness. The sensory part of our palette detecting bitterness is the last to be activated as they are located at the back of the tongue. From a structural standpoint to cocktail making, this part is critical as it forms the last impression of the cocktail. There is however, another tool in the bartender's arsenal that can fill this critical role: Sherry. Sherry has a unique umami character that makes it a great alternative to bitters. It can be used to accent a cocktail's finish with softer notes of nuts, warm oak, vanilla, earthy mushroom, and a hint of salinity.
Whenever I tell my guests that I'm using sherry in their cocktail, I'm met with fear and apprehension. However, I aim to overturn their assumptions. The biggest mistake people make when drinking is creating boundaries without a reasonable understanding of what they are drinking. For instance, I have a lot of people who say "anything but tequila". To me, this is the most fascinating part of our interaction. I usually volley with a simple "why?". From here, it can go two ways: I either get an answer that entails, "freshman year of college... enough said" or "I just don't like the taste of it." While both are completely reasonable answers, they stem from a singularly unpleasant experience that has put them off from exploring any further. It is the bartender's job to understand and dispel that fear and that alone has emerged as one of the greatest tasks I'm facing with the introduction of sherry to my cocktail menu.
Sherry falls into the exact same stigma that a lot of 'dated' or 'party spirits' find themselves in when trying to appeal to the contemporary imbiber. Typically, the response I get to sherry is something about how their grandmother used to drink sherry, which is somehow supposed to be the answer to why they don't want to drink it. To all those grandmas out there who drink sherry: CHEERS! You are now on the cusp of being the trendy drinker!
What many fail to see are the numerous expressions of sherry that are created by way of mixing various grape varietals, different vintages, aging processes, and blending techniques. At Anti:dote in the Fairmont Singapore we carry 10 different expressions of sherry from the Gonzales Byass Winery. Everything from the bone-dry Tip Pepe fino to a super rich, raisin bomb known as the 30 year aged Pedro Ximenez called "Noe". My favorite style to use in cocktails and to enjoy by itself is Palo Cortado which is made from the palomino grape and aged for 12 years.
Some of my favorite cocktails to make with sherry are a revised version of the Greenpoint cocktail, a contemporary classic from Michael McIlroy at Milk and Honey; and for a more refreshing tipple, the Scofflaw — where I substitute dry vermouth with Palo Cortado sherry.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy sherry. It is one of the most versatile beverages that can be enjoyed in a cocktail or by itself. It is also one of the best accompaniments to food. Sherry has been around for centuries but it has endured through the ebb and flow of popularity and disparity because of the artisans who carry on the tradition out of love for what they do. The time has come for sherry to take centre stage and I have no doubt it will charm even the most sceptical drinker.
Keen to try some of Tom Hogan's sherry tinged cocktails? Head over to Anti:dote at the Fairmont Singapore